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Acting Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

LaTourette nomination clears Judiciary Committee

Nominee faces questions over climate change, waterborne drugs

By Nikita Biryukov, May 13 2021 6:43 pm

Acting Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette’s nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a near-unanimous vote after a series of exchanges between the nominee and State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington) Thursday.

LaTourette, who has served in an acting capacity since January and was nominated to head the department last month, faced questions on the reality of climate change and urine-borne drugs from the conservative lawmaker.

“The earth’s been warmer at times than it is right now before the combustion engine was created,” Doherty said. “For example, they can take, the scientists, I’ve read different reports, that during the Egyptian era, the Earth was much warmer, and during the Roman era, the Earth was much warmer, and there’s also been ice ages, many ice ages.”

He charged the warm periods were ones of growth and prosperity before asking LaTourette for his opinion.

“I think you cannot compare ordinary warming cycles of a pre-industrial era to what we as human beings have helped to facilitate at a rapid rate and the way that that warming will affect a modern established society,” the nominee said. “There were not metropolises built in flood plains during those times. We have them now. If we want them to be there in the next 50 or 100 years, we have to protect them or we’ll lose them and all that investment of public funds, as well as private.”

While pressing the longtime environmental attorney on pharmaceuticals not removed from the state’s water supply by its treatment plants, Doherty asked LaTourette how he planned to filter drugs transmitted through urine streams.

He pointed to a decline in testosterone rates to demonstrate the issue’s pressing nature.

“Male testosterone rates are down 50% in a generation,” he said “That’s a serious problem. Imagine if that was happening to some other health condition to somebody else was going down 50% or getting 50% worse. We’d never hear the end of it. That’s a problem, right?”

It’s not clear where the 50% figure comes from. Though researchers have marked an increase in testosterone deficiency rates, they attribute the rise to a variety of factors, including environmental toxins, marijuana use and obesity, among others.

The senator has sponsored a bill creating a commission to study pharmaceuticals in New Jersey’s waterways in several legislative sessions, though the nominee said there was little need for such a body.

“I was not particularly aware of the general lack of testosterone and it surprises me,” LaTourette said after collecting himself. “However, there is an incredible institution in this state that has led not just the nation but the world in protecting water. It is called the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute. We don’t need a task force because we have them.”

Doherty was the only Judiciary Committee member to vote against advancing LaTourette’s nomination, citing his support of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

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